Spring 2019

Remembering Alvar Gustafson


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Alvar Gustafson, who died October 13 at age seventy-two, put students first. During his more than forty years at Tufts University, he taught generations of medical, dental, and veterinary students, earning a reputation as a beloved and inspiring professor at each school.

“Al was a consummate gentleman and a great teacher, admired and respected by students and faculty,” Michael Thompson, assistant dean for academic affairs, wrote in a tribute to Gustafson on the School of Dental Medicine’s Facebook page. “I worked with him for many years and strove to be as organized and enthusiastic about the courses that I taught as he was.”

Gustafson held a doctorate from Cornell University, and his primary appointment at Tufts was at the School of Medicine. From 1975 to 2016, he taught basic sciences at the dental school and in 1995 he became the course director of dental histology.

He was the founding faculty director of the medical school’s Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences (MBS), created to strengthen the academic credentials of students applying to medical, dental, or other health-sciences programs. That position became, in the words of his friend and medical school colleague John Castellot, “his most important role.” Vivian Stephens-Hicks, the MBS program manager, recalled Gustafson’s philosophy: “We were ‘servants’ who serve our students, to aid them in achieving their goals.”

Gustafson was both a Francophile and an oenophile, and for two weeks every spring he and his wife, Evie, visited Paris, where he could indulge both passions. “He was a Renaissance man,” Castellot said. “You could talk to him about any subject. And he believed that everyone in the world had value and was unique and to be respected. I considered him to be one of the quiet giants of Tufts.”

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